Credit: Anaheim Union High School District
Magnolia High School students get a an opportunity to be on the inside looking out thanks to an Anaheim Union High School District mentoring program.

The late business guru, Russell Ackoff, famously said, “It’s better to do the right thing wrong than the wrong thing right.”

At a time when many districts seem to be focused on doing the wrong thing right by working to raise test scores to the exclusion of anything else, we’re taking a different approach at Anaheim Union High School District — building a bridge to the future so that students can achieve their unique potential based on their passions and talents. We called it the “Unlimited You.”

Michael Matsuda

We live in a time when economists predict some 65 percent of the jobs that current K-12 students will hold haven’t yet been invented. Locally, economist Wallace Walrod of the Orange County Business Council has warned that Orange County will need to better prepare a pipeline of talent to backfill over 100,000 white collar jobs lost to retirement with what he calls “new collar” jobs.

It is not only the kind of jobs that will exist, however, but the number. Billionaire philanthropists and thought leaders such as Working Nation founder Art Bilger, Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and Tesla’s Elon Musk have warned of extreme disruptions in employment over the coming years, with Working Nation positing a 45 percent loss of jobs in ten to twenty years.

Yuval Noah Harari, futurist and author of several bestsellers on the effects of artificial intelligence and biotechnology, goes so far as to suggest a coming “useless class,” a large sector of society that will have no economic worth and will therefore need a “universal basic income” to divert possible massive social unrest.

With rising rates of teenage anxiety, depression and isolation, more emphasis on metrics like the SAT and standardized tests is not the answer, and legislation that would make the SAT a required state test for all high school students is more of doing the wrong thing right. It is time to build an innovation ecosystem in education.

At Anaheim Union High schools, we are working to ensure that our students are prepared for the “new collar” world, gainfully employed and able to achieve an unlimited future.

In partnership with North Orange County Community College District, Cal State University, Fullerton and UC Irvine, we have developed the Anaheim Education Pledge, which fundamentally changes the drivers for education from focusing on “college readiness” (through test scores) to “college, career and life success.” Nearly three years in the making, this agreement includes the region’s most comprehensive mentoring program involving dozens of corporate and nonprofit partners.

Our aim is to steer students away from a “one size fits all” future to one in which they find their passion for education and use it to solve problems and make the world a better place for all. One of our partners, Disneyland Resort, recently awarded our district $350,000 to help grow our internship program to 500 students as part of its commitment to workforce investment.

Academic metrics and test scores still matter, but the emphasis on the whole child and development of emotional and relational intelligence matters more. According to Dr. Harari and others, emotional intelligence is a vital skill to have as Generation Z faces that uncertain future.

We focus on 5 Cs: communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and character/compassion. These 21st century skills are embedded in daily instructional practices and have resulted in amazing accomplishments for students, including a 43 percent increase in admissions to UC Irvine.

This focus is also what attracts our business and non-profit partners, now numbering nearly seventy, from seventeen cities. Many CEOs and HR directors have told me that we are one of the few districts focused on developing better emotional intelligence and relational skills that will result in increased customer service, job satisfaction and happiness.

There is little doubt that we are headed toward rough waters, fraught with danger and uncertainty. Fear sometimes freezes people into the status quo, where it’s safer to do what we’re used to doing like rearranging the deck chairs.

But let’s not forget that FEAR may be met in more than one way: we can Forget Everything And Run, or we can Face Everything And Rise. At Anaheim Union High School District, we choose to rise, so that every child can achieve their “Unlimited You” in the journey called life.

•••

Michael B. Matsuda is the superintendent of the Anaheim Union High School District

The opinions in this commentary are those of the author. If you would like to submit a commentary, please review our guidelines and contact us.

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  1. Rodolfo Acevedo 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    As a proud product of AUHSD, I cannot overstate how grateful I am to AUHSD for shaping me into the young man that I am today. I graduated from Anaheim High School in 2017 and currently am a student at UCLA majoring in Political Science with an emphasis in International Relations. Being at an institution such as UCLA can be extremely challenging due to its academic rigor and meeting people from all walks of life and … Read More

    As a proud product of AUHSD, I cannot overstate how grateful I am to AUHSD for shaping me into the young man that I am today.
    I graduated from Anaheim High School in 2017 and currently am a student at UCLA majoring in Political Science with an emphasis in International Relations. Being at an institution such as UCLA can be extremely challenging due to its academic rigor and meeting people from all walks of life and from all the corners of the world. For many students such a new environment seems overwhelming especially because they realize that they are no longer the “smartest” in their classrooms. Nonetheless thanks to AUHSD and their unique emphasis on developing the “soft skills” as are known in the district as “5 C’s”(Communication, creativity, collaboration, critical, and character/compassion) I have been more than prepared for what has been waiting for me at UCLA and for whatever career path I decide to do.

    At AUHSD they take a wholistic approach to the students. While many school districts value strictly teaching to the tests such as for the SAT and the ACT, AUHSD has taken a better approach. They understand that if we only focus on passing standardized tests, then we are not going to be prepared for what the future has in store. That’s why the district places so much emphasis on the 5 C’s, because no matter what we career path we decide to do, we are going to be required to posses those skills if we wish to be successful. Those are also skills that are geared to help us with our personal and social lives.

    With that said, we must also take a moment and try to remember why it is that students go through the rigors of going to college. At the end of the day the main reason nearly all of the students go to college is so that they can use that way to get careers. The problem is that many students go into the workforce and not prepared with the solid foundation of skills to be successful. That is precisely why AUHSD values the 5 C’s, because these skills are invaluable to any job. So far, they have done much more for me than any academic development or achievements. Thanks to the 5 C’s, working with others (whether that be at work or in the classroom) is almost secondary nature, being able to communicate effectively is something I take pride in, thinking outside the box is something I’m no longer afraid of, and I always walk into an interview confident that I am going to do excellent. Even being able to interact with people and doing so in a genuine, courteous manner has helped me tremendously not just in the workplace but also in my social and personal life. These are skills that were ingrained in me since my time at AUHSD and I know would not have been possible at anywhere else. That has always helped me tremendously being an advocate in various organizations that involve educational and social justice rights.

    At the end of the day, the truth is that I could discuss all day long how grateful I am to AUHSD for its revolutionary approach to education and what makes the district so exceptional. Any student that goes to AUHSD is truly blessed to be receiving an education that goes beyond the textbook and focused on ensuring that they have are prepared to live fulfilled professional and personal lives. For all the parents of current or future AUHSD students, rest assured that your child will be taken care of unlike any other place possible.

  2. Roman Stearns 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    Bravo to Superintendent Matsuda for his bold leadership, recognizing that the California Schools Dashboard is the floor and not a ceiling for setting student outcomes. The district's strategy of defining for pursuing their 5Cs as a strategy for educating the whole child is exceptionally well aligned with the work of a growing cohort of like-minded school districts participating in a Community of Practice convened by Scaling Student Success (https://ScalingStudentSuccess.org). These districts have engaged their community … Read More

    Bravo to Superintendent Matsuda for his bold leadership, recognizing that the California Schools Dashboard is the floor and not a ceiling for setting student outcomes. The district’s strategy of defining for pursuing their 5Cs as a strategy for educating the whole child is exceptionally well aligned with the work of a growing cohort of like-minded school districts participating in a Community of Practice convened by Scaling Student Success (https://ScalingStudentSuccess.org).

    These districts have engaged their community partners to create a Graduate Profile that defines the outcomes expected for future success in college, career, and civic engagement. Then, rather than merely patting themselves on the back for admiring the colorful poster they have created together, the districts in this Community of Practice are dedicated to move “from poster to practice” – operationalizing their Graduate Profiles in a way that holds the district and community collectively accountable for assuring that each and every student has the opportunity to develop and demonstrate their competency on the outcomes articulated in their Graduate Profile.

  3. Dan Fichtner 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    Mike, you sure are missed at Californians Together, but you are doing great things in a bigger way.

  4. Sergio Nieto 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    As a former student of the Anaheim Union High School District, and a firm believer in the public education system, I am extremely grateful for all the wonderful changes and opportunities that the district has been presenting to its students. I am currently an undergraduate student at the University of California, Riverside where I am pursuing a degree in Computer Science. There are many students within the program that are far more intelligent than I … Read More

    As a former student of the Anaheim Union High School District, and a firm believer in the public education system, I am extremely grateful for all the wonderful changes and opportunities that the district has been presenting to its students. I am currently an undergraduate student at the University of California, Riverside where I am pursuing a degree in Computer Science.

    There are many students within the program that are far more intelligent than I am, and they can easily accomplish the tasks given to them within a short period of time. It can be quite daunting to know that sometimes my best efforts only yield average results, while someone else achieves excellent results without nearly as much effort.

    However, one area where I outperform many of these incredibly intelligent students is in social skills. Throughout my time at AUHSD, I was able to develop the interpersonal skills necessary to succeed in the work force and become a well-rounded individual. Whenever we have mock interviews, I always find myself excelling over many of the other students who lack character and communication skills. Certain professors have us present about the assignment we are working on, and it can be tough to watch fellow engineers struggle to communicate the beautiful intricacies of their project.

    Whenever there are job fairs, it fills me with joy to know that I can calmly and confidently walk up to a recruiter, introduce myself, and hold a steady conversation to showcase my knowledge. The Anaheim Union High School District is doing extraordinary things for the benefit of each student and it should serve as an inspiration for other districts to make changes. I give my thanks to Superintendent Matsuda and everyone involved, for all the hard work that they put into making sure each student is excited and prepared for their future.

  5. Irv Trinkle 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    This is one of the most impressionable articles that I have seen anywhere as related to the education of today for workers of tomorrow. The article should be shared with all educators and politicians alike from local to state and even national. Kudos to Superintendent Matsuda for the article and to the Board Members for allowing the district to move ahead and “to do the right thing right.”

  6. Bo Loney 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    They don’t have to reinvent the wheel Maria Montessori already created. But I’m happy to see that schools districts are thinking outside the one size fits all box.